When Hell freezes over

OK, a quick word of explanation. Last week I flew to Geneva to visit the Large Hadron Collider that CERN is building there, which will be the most powerful particle accelerator in the world by a factor of about 10 when it turns on next year. Amazing, inspiring stuff, which I’ll write about for Wired News in a few days.

But a story that won’t make it in: When they were excavating one of the caverns for these massive five or seven story detectors, they hit an underground river. Water started flowing in, clearly a bad sign. Since they were at a collider facility, they naturally turned to supercooled liquid helium to freeze the water and get rid of it, before fixing the leak. The resulting ambient temperature drop was so extreme that even the surface of the roads, 100 meters up, were iced over on that warm mid-August day.

Naturally, when I looked at the elevator buttons going down into the pit, and see the bottom one labeled “Hell,” it set me thinking…